Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mighty Metamorphoses: the Chameleonic Kinmans

Transformation is an artist's prerogative, a right not exclusively reserved by David Bowie. Sometimes a change of identity is necessitated by a false start (Y Kan't Tori Read?) For some artists, shedding skins (or changing masks) becomes an integral part of their career: they are consistent in their inconsistency (or mutability).

So I don't begrudge an artist a change of course, though it may bewilder the listener or arouse suspicions of pandering to popular tastes. I'd like to feature a few of the more interesting musical metamorphoses in independent music.

The Kinman brothers, Chip and Tony, have adopted several musical styles over the past thirty years. Their first band, the Dils, were among the first wave of West Coast punk bands. The Dils were known as much for their politics as their music: they took a principled position, and then caught flak from punks who accused them of selling out. You may remember the Dils' appearance in a Cheech & Chong movie. The Dils only released three singles during their career (1977 to 1980), though several compilations have appeared posthumously. The Dils' last single, "The Sound of the Rain", featured a surprisingly countryish sound, with the Kinmans' strong vocal harmonies, and a lyrical kiss-off to punk with the line "we're a band playing music for the dead".

The Kinmans moved to from California to NYC, and then to Austin, where they hooked up with Alejandro Escovedo (ex-Nuns) and formed the Rank and File. The Kinmans' harmonies were now even more up front, and their original songs were influenced by classic country music as well as the early rock of the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. The Rank and File released three albums: Sundown (1982), Long Gone Dead (1984) and a self-titled "hair metal" album in 1987. The first two albums are excellent and have been reissued twice on CD. Long Gone Dead includes a version of "The Sound of the Rain".

After the breakup of the Rank and File, Chip and Tony's next project was a band called Blackbird. In a complete change from the American roots music of the Rank and File, the Kinmans now employed drum machines, synths, and heavily processed guitar and vocals. Blackbird lasted from 1988 to 1995, with two releases on the small Iloki label, a compilation on the Fundamental label (out of Covington, Georgia), and a final album on Scotti Brothers. The last Blackbird single, "Big Train", was covered by Mike Watt on his first solo album. Blackbird covered the Dils' song "Class War". Blackbird also performed a version of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On", a song that the Dils also played live. (Does anybody know anything about Fundamental Records?)

The Kinmans took a giant step back in time with their next band, Cowboy Nation, which lasted from 1996 to 2003. The brothers performed cowboy music (Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, etc.) on acoustic instruments, again with their trademark harmonies and their original songs mixed with standards like "Old Paint". You can visit the Kinmans' website here.

You can buy Dils and Cowboy Nation records at eMusic, and you can buy Blackbird records at DistortoSound.

The Dils: Sound of the Rain
Blackbird: Quicksand


At 10/04/2006 11:03 PM , Blogger Paula said...

Ah, lovely. I recently downloaded "Hey Mr. Big" to put on a "history of punk" primer for a 15-year-old kid, and that got me thinking about these guys.

Also, the Everly Brothers did a smashin' version of "Amanda Ruth" on their beautiful comeback album in the '90s (which sadly is not available at the usual online outlets).

At 10/05/2006 9:49 AM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Didn't know about the Everlys covering the Rank and File. I bet Chip and Tony were thrilled.

At 10/09/2006 10:09 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

I just noticed that there is also a Blackbird version of "Amanda Ruth".


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